Graduating LGBTQ seniors and allies who choose to be recognized will receive special rainbow-trimmed stoles at a Lavender Graduation ceremony on April 19 in Peirce Pub. The ceremony will recognize these students’ achievements and contributions to the LGBTQ community at Kenyon and the larger campus community.
Jillian Watts, former LGBTQ resource coordinator and assistant director of the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, spearheaded the effort to bring Lavender Graduation to Kenyon. Watts, who departed March 31 for a new position at Manchester University in Indiana, hopes the Lavender Graduation ceremony will demonstrate the Kenyon community’s commitment to supporting LGBTQ students.
“For the people that are out, or confident in their ability to be allies as well, it is a way to show them that we are thankful for their courage,” Watts said. “Just being able to say that we as a community have their back.”
The first Lavender Graduation ceremony occurred in 1995 at the University of Michigan, according to Human Rights Watch, and the ceremony has since spread to other colleges and universities across the U.S. The ceremony was the brainchild of Dr. Ronni Sanlo, a Jewish lesbian who was not permitted to attend the graduations of her children due to her sexual orientation.
Watts said the ceremony celebrates the out members of the LGBTQ community and those who are unable to come out at this point in time by demonstrating that the campus is “making strides” to foster a diverse community.
As of March 31, seven students have registered to participate in the Lavender Graduation ceremony, and 21 faculty, staff and community members have RSVP’d as attendees.
The campus community has been very supportive of the Lavender Graduation effort, according to Watts. After raising the idea with the LGBTQ advisory committee — comprised of students, faculty and staff — Watts reached out to several college departments and centers for funding. The Lavender Graduation ceremony received funding from the Center for the Study of American Democracy, the Office of Housing and Residential Life, the Counseling Center and Library & Information Services, among others. AVI Foodsystems agreed to donate free catering to the event and committed to donating catering to this event in the future.
AVI Foodsystems Resident Director Chris Wisbey said donating the food was a way for AVI to build their partnership with Kenyon and help the community. Wisbey said he hopes the appetizers, desserts and drinks donated by AVI will enhance the event and ensure its success.
During the ceremony, several awards recognizing contributions to Kenyon’s LGBTQ community will be awarded based on nominations made by students, faculty and staff through an online form attached to a March 27 email from Watts. Awards will recognize an outstanding student ally, an outstanding faculty or staff ally, a “rising star” first year who has worked to support the LGBTQ community and a trailblazer alumnus or past faculty or staff member who has promoted LGBTQ equality.
For Watts, working on LGBTQ issues at Kenyon has been bittersweet. Watts said she often felt frustrated by the lack of student engagement with LGBTQ programming, especially since providing such programming required late nights and longtime commitments.
“Since [students] said that they wanted more LGBTQ+ programming, they wanted more of a salient presence of LGBTQ services, when that happens, then you have to show up and actually be there for it,” Watts said, “or it will not be taken serious[ly] a lot, from not just students, but from faculty and staff. It will not be invested in enough, so it really requires student participation and engagement.”
Still, Watts said she was excited about the event and hopes to return to campus for the ceremony.
Lavender Graduation will be held in the Pub on April 19 from 5:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. Students who wish to participate or attend can RSVP over email.